Violence, fuelled by a speculative media owing allegiance to one party or the other, spread across the atolls of the Maldives after the deposed President, Mohammed Nasheed, on Wednesday decided to take the issue to the streets. Reports reaching Male indicate that members of his Maldivian Democratic Party have virtually taken over administration on at least five islands.
The Maldivian National Defence Forces' acting chief, Ahmed Shihan, and the acting Chief Commissioner of Police, Abdullah Fairoosh, spoke to the media late on Wednesday to set at rest rumours that the country was inching towards a civil war. “On some islands, beginning from this afternoon, there have been some disturbances, especially in the South — Addu as well as Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. In these islands some courts have been forcefully opened and some courts have been torched. We are trying to bring the situation under control,” Mr. Shihan told The Hindu.
It is a very small percentage of the country. “I think this [violence] might continue in the southern Atolls, but in the rest of the country, [things are] very much in control,” he said.
Asked about media speculation, also beamed in India by an English language TV channel, that Mr. Nasheed was in custody, he said: “No, Mr. Nasheed is not in custody.”
While one TV channel, run by Mr. Nasheed's supporters, reported that he was under custody and that violence erupted across all atolls, another began beaming late in the night visuals of a huge stock of alcohol that, it claimed, was recovered from the Presidential palace hours after Mr. Nasheed left. The courts are being roped in too: local media correspondents said Dhiyana Saeedu, former SAARC Secretary-General, has filed a series of criminal complaints against Mr. Nasheed — mainly about the illegality of his actions in his last days in office. More opposition leaders are expected to follow suit.
After a day of surreal calm following Mr. Nasheed's resignation, the capital witnessed a few skirmishes between his supporters on one side, and the police and the military on another. Tear-gas was used, and police baton-charged the MDP men. A few persons were treated for injuries in a local hospital.
Challenging days are ahead as Mr. Nasheed tries to reclaim his position, while the new government is yet to be established. Well-wishers of the Maldives have advised both Mr. Nasheed and the new President against precipitating the situation and appealed for calm. Specifically, they had appealed against any display of celebrations or protests. But having got wind of the fact that a faction from his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, might join the government, Mr. Nasheed decided to get out into the open and demand justice.
Addressing a huge gathering of supporters here on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Nasheed called upon the new President, Dr. Waheed Hassan, to resign, even as Dr. Waheed kept himself busy in parleys with the Opposition to drum up support and establish a credible government.
Talking to foreign journalists, Mr. Nasheed said he was ousted in a coup. “They were with guns all around me, I feared for my life,” he said, and called upon the Chief Justice to investigate the events that led to his resignation.
The Maldivian National Defence Forces chief, however, refuted this claim. “We the Maldivian National Defence Forces did not force the former President, Mr. Nasheed, to resign. It is not correct,” he said.
Nasheed injured: aide
An aide of Mr. Nasheed claimed that the ousted leader was injured soon after his address, and that he has been taken away to a safe location. Three of his colleagues in the Maldivian Democratic Party were held by the police soon after. A senior government official refuted the claim that Mr. Nasheed was injured. “The President will do nothing to aggravate the present fluid situation barring action to keep the streets safe,” he said.
One source close to Dr.Waheed said that every political party, barring the MDP, was on board to form a government of national unity. Now, Dr.Waheed's problem will be in balancing the demands for berths from among these parties. Discussions on ‘who gets what' is yet to commence. This will be a difficult exercise as Dr.Waheed is not politically strong.
Earlier, police, with support from the Maldivian National Defence Force, blocked roads, fired tear gas and used batons against protesters who wanted Mr.Nasheed back as President. Dozens of MDP men gathered at the Republic Square, near the police and military headquarters and used a mega phone to condemn the present government.
The police closed roads leading to the square. This reporter saw tear gas being fired. The protesters retreated and gathered in small groups nearby, beginning a cat-and-mouse game with the police for about a few hours in the evening.